The Jury Talks Back


How I voted in the California election

Filed under: California Politics — aphrael @ 7:05 pm

I had intended to write up full-scale analyses of each of the propositions prior to the election, but my morale got shattered, and my willingness to devote energy to anything other than rank avoidance dwindled away.

But someone expressed interest, so even though it’s too late to sway anyone’s votes, here are the short versions:

Proposition 13:

As I explained here, Prop. 13 is a minor technical revision to the Constitution which I have a hard time caring about in any way. It’s almost certainly harmless. It’s probably pointless – I just don’t believe there are a substantial number of unreinforced masonry buildings owned by people who aren’t retrofitting them but would if they were given a reassessment exclusion which lasted until their next sale instead of fifteen years. It’s on the ballot because the only way to change it is via a ballot measure, and the people I think should be deciding this unanimously placed it on the ballot, so I voted yes … but I would have preferred not to have to care about it.

Proposition 14:

This measure would change the way elections are conducted in California. Currently we have partisan primaries (run by the state and paid for by the state) to select partisan nominees who automatically qualify for the general election. The new system would be to have jungle primaries in which all candidates of all parties are on the same ballot; the top two vote getters would advance to the general election but would not be the nominees of their parties. (Presidential elections would be handled differently).

Activists of all parties hate it.

I like it: I think the single biggest problem with California politics is that the election structure requires candidates to appeal to the most extreme members of their respective parties. To win the primary, Democrats must appeal to Democratic activists, and Republicans must appeal to Republican activists … resulting in candidates who are forced to the extreme and then are punished for comprmising, and resulting in the 30% of the state who are nonpartisan (plus the liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats) being frozen out of the legislative process.

Part of the fix to this is to fix redistricting, which is why I voted for Prop. 11 in 2008. (DISCLAIMER: I am currently an applicant to be a member of the state redistricting commission). Another part of the solution is to change the incentive structure for elections. Proposition 14 should do that: it should encourage candidates to run to the middle in all races, and in lopsided districts it should allow the centrist members of the dominant party to combine with the other party’s members to elect a centrist partisan rather than a radical partisan.

It’s not a cure-all. But it’s worth trying.

Proposition 15:

I really like the idea: take one race and see if public financing works. It’s great to have an experiment limited to one race rather than experimenting with the entire system; and it’s particularly appropriate to use the Secretary of State as a test bed for this kind of reform.

I really dislike the fact that the implementation discriminates between candidates based on the party in which they are registered.

So did Prop. 11, but in that case the initiative was fixing a critical problem. In this case, it isn’t. So I’d rather wait for a measure which doesn’t have this flaw.

Proposition 16:

Proposition 16 is a measure to change the state constitution to require a particular type of government action – and only that particular type of government action – be approved by a 2/3 majority vote of the voters.

I don’t like supermajority requirements unless there’s a compelling public policy reason for them.

I don’t like singling out particular kinds of action unless there’s some compelling public policy reason for it.

There isn’t in this case. Public provision of electric power is no different than public provision of garbage collection (or of sewage collection) or, to be honest, of water. Why should the state constitution carve out a particular hurdle for this type of public provision of utility service and not for others?

It shouldn’t.

The measure is being advertised as a way to protect the taxpayers’ money and allow people to vote on how their money is spent. But the advertising ignores what I think of as the key questions: what makes public power provision different, so that it should be subject to a public vote when other things aren’t; and what makes public power provision so special as to require a 2/3 majority vote?

As far as I can tell the answer is: nothing except the fact that the primary sponsor wants the state to write into the constitution an effective way to prevent competition.

In short: the proposition is a scam perpetrated by PG&E. It deserves defeat.

Proposition 17:

I don’t understand this initiative.

I know it has something to do with changes to the rules for auto insurance to allow a particular type of discount to be portable when you change insurance providers, and that the trade-off for it is a barrier to entry to the insurance market for people who don’t already have insurance.

I see no particular reason to prefer that trade-off.

Moreover, I don’t understand the ramifications – which consumers win by this? Which don’t? What are the long-term second-order effects on the industry?

I don’t have the time, skills, or interest to figure this out. Figuring this out is why we have an Insurance Commissioner.

so I resent being asked, I’m not convinced it’s a good idea, and I don’t want to spend the time figuring it out.

I feel somewhat bad for reflexively voting ‘no’ without taking the time to understand it. But … unless someone can make a case that it’s worth my time, why should I?

Measure G:

This is a San Mateo County measure involving a short-term (4 years) parcel tax whose revenue would be used to plug a hole in the local community college district’s budget caused by state budget cutbacks.

To start with: community colleges are a fantastic resource which are, I think, more important to the well-being of the state’s working class population than CSU and UC, and are a vital service which should not be cut back. I would support cuts to CSU and UC before I’d support cuts to the community colleges.

And yet … a temporary tax to plug a long-term budget hole?

This might make sense if there were any reason to believe the state’s budget crisis would end in the next four years.

There isn’t.

And so it doesn’t.

The measure calls out for another election in four years to plug the exact same hole we’re plugging now.

So … we should buckle down and either pass a permanent tax now or figure out how to balance the books without the increase now. But we shouldn’t be trying to use a short-term temporary fix to the problem.

That way lies continuing crisis.

And wouldn’t it be better not to renew the crisis?


  1. Regarding prop 14, the most likely result is not that all candidates will run towards the center. Rather, the most likely result is that the major parties will select their candidates in a caucus or convention some time before the primary election. If either the Republicans or Democrats failed to do that, they would run the risk of not having any candidate to represent them in the general election.

    End result: less transparency, less choice, and more control for the party bosses and large unions.

    Comment by Seneca — 6/8/2010 @ 8:29 pm

  2. That’s not what’s happened in Washington, which has a similar system.

    But the beauty of our system is: if it doesn’t work, it’s really easy to change it. :)

    Comment by aphrael — 6/8/2010 @ 8:39 pm

  3. I left 15 blank and voted “NO” on the other propositions.

    Comment by aunursa — 6/8/2010 @ 8:40 pm

  4. Here’s the simple explanation of Prop 17. California law (and every other state law except NH) requires you to have auto insurance. Just about every state EXCEPT that godawful one I escaped four years ago and you didn’t allows insurers to reward you for having done what you were supposed to do. Keeping your insurance current means you’re a responsible citizen, and that translates into a lower risk for insurers. California, however, only allowed an insurer to reward you for staying with that particular insurer. This initiative just corrected that.

    Simpler version: if you think competition among auto insurers is a bad thing, you should have voted “no” on 17 so everyone insured by Insurer A would have an artificial incentive not to consider switching to Insurer B. If you think competition is good, then you should have voted “yes” on 17 and told Harvey Rosenfield to take the flying leap California should have sent him on in 1988. [No, I’m not saying Prop 103 was all bad. It does have two good elements, which Prop 17 does not affect. First, it allows rebates, which remain illegal almost everywhere else. Second, it expands group insurance far beyond its original scope. Of course CA voters weren’t thinking of either when they voted on the unconstitutional rollbacks that were supposed to give them free money that never came.

    [Full disclosure: I am counsel to an auto insurer that supports Prop 17, mostly by my own prodding. Fuller disclosure: no, I don’t work for Mercury, which is Prop 17’s biggest sponsor but is not even admitted in NC.]

    I don’t have the time, skills, or interest to figure this out. Figuring this out is why we have an Insurance Commissioner.

    Wrong. Insurance Commissioner Quackenbush DID figure this out, and allowed the same thing by regulation. His successor, Harry Low, decided that this rule violated Prop 103 and rescinded it. Then the California legislature intervened and enacted a very similar statute; that too was struck down by the courts as violative of Prop 103. So the only friggin’ way to enact the reform was by initiative. If you don’t understand that, do your fellow Californians a favor and don’t vote on initiatives at all.

    Comment by Xrlq — 6/8/2010 @ 9:18 pm

  5. I certainly understand that an initiative can only be modified by another initiative.

    I would probably have voted against Prop. 103 on the same grounds that I voted against Prop. 17 today — but I was 16 and therefore not allowed to vote. :)

    Comment by aphrael — 6/8/2010 @ 9:39 pm

  6. Fair enough, for as far as it goes, but once Prop 103 was enacted, whatever reasons there may have once been for voting against it are a really crappy argument for voting against reforms to the same. Query whether that same illogic is why this common sense reform passed by only a 10% margin rather than the 70-30 margin one might have expected if everyone had understood it on substance (“Should people who kept their insurance current be rewarded for that, even if they had the gall to shop the market for other insurance?”) rather than in form (“Should voters be voting on this issue, notwithstanding the political reality that no one else can?”).

    Comment by Xrlq — 6/8/2010 @ 9:54 pm

  7. araphel, I agree with Seneca above. Here is why I voted against Prop. 14, even though I do not consider myself a GOP “activist” by any means:

    In my Assembly district (the 53rd) we had EIGHT Democrats and one Republican on the ballot today. I don’t know what the exact numbers are, but let’s assume my district is about a 60/40 Dem/Rep split (not by registration, but by usual voting patterns with independents and others factored in). Let’s also assume that 100,000 people voted (to make the math easy), and the voter proportions exactly reflected the district so that 60,000 people voted Democrat and 40,000 people voted Republican.

    The leading Democrat looks like she will capture about 25% of the vote, with two others hovering around 20% and two more at about 10%. They had a pretty good Democrat field divided pretty equally among professional politicians, labor activists, educators, etc., so no one candidate dominated today. Based upon our math above, the top Dem would win about 15,000 votes, two others would get about 12,000 each, and a couple more would each get 6,000.

    The lone Republican would get virtually all of the 40,000 GOP votes, but imagine now that there was a second strong candidate on the ballot and he or she split the vote pretty evenly with the other candidate. We now have a scenario where each Republican candidate would have 20,000 votes, more than any of the Democrats received. If this were an “open” primary with all candidates on the ballot, the two Republicans would advance to the November election even though Republicans are the minority party in the district.

    Now, of course, the Democratic Party would never allow that to happen. Barack Obama (via Rahm Emmanuel or Bill Clinton) would swoop in and offer administration jobs to six of the eight Democrats in order to clear the field (Republicans would do the same). In that case, then, we would have the perverse effect of the party using the “open” primary as an excuse to cull the herd early and prevent legitimate candidates from ever even entering a primary election. The message would be very clear that if you want to stand for election you need to win the blessing of a party — no insurgent candidates allowed. This is the sort of unintended consequence I fear this new system will bring.

    I guess I am just old-fashioned in believing that Democrats ought to choose which Democrat gets their party nomination, and Republicans ought to choose which Republican gets it. If people really want to help elect moderates they should register as Independents and get a ballot for the primary in which they find a candidate to their liking.

    And finally, araphel, you mentioned Washington in your response to Seneca above. Didn’t I hear on the radio today that since Washington enacted open primaries only once in 139 elections has an incumbent been defeated? Do you know if that is true?

    Comment by JVW — 6/8/2010 @ 10:18 pm

  8. Dammit, and I keep misspelling your name. Sorry about that, aphrael.

    Comment by JVW — 6/8/2010 @ 10:38 pm

  9. I must say I’m astonished; the voters of California have *never* voted the same way I have.

    JVW, I don’t know about the incumbent re-election rate in Washington, but I doubt that can be laid at the feet of the voting system they use; our incumbent re-election rate is above 95%.

    I don’t believe the parties in California are strong enough to do the advance back room dealing that you’re talking about, especially in legislative races (which is where the real problem is).

    This is in essence a weaker version of the 1996 blanket primary system, which worked pretty well until the Supreme Court told us to stop it.

    Comment by aphrael — 6/9/2010 @ 8:37 am

  10. I’m not sure about the “top two” primary. I’d love to see a centrist Democrat compete with my Congresswoman (the Hon. Maxine Waters). I just don’t think anyone is so stupid as to go up against that evil witch.

    Challenging a sitting officeholder of your own party is pretty much a mortal sin no matter what party you’re in. When the sitting officeholder has the demeanor of a syphilitic bit bull, the odds are even less. I expect Prop 14 to fail to achieve it’s stated ends.

    I do expect it to achieve its unstated end: drive the 3rd parties out of business.

    Comment by Kevin Murphy — 6/9/2010 @ 6:29 pm

  11. I agree with xrlq about Pop 17. Currently you MUST pay a penalty to change insurers in California if you’ve been with your current one for even 3 years. Your current insurer is allowed to give you a loyalty credit, but no other insurer can offer to match it. They have to give you the posted rate.

    Prop 17 would have allowed them to take your pattern of responsibility into account and offer a discount on that basis. It might or might not have matched their own loyalty credit, but there are good reasons to think it would have been about the same. Insurers WANT responsible clients and will choose them over random ones.

    So, for someone who says she favors transparency and choice, you voted the other way.

    Comment by Kevin Murphy — 6/9/2010 @ 6:35 pm

  12. I would probably have voted against Prop. 103 on the same grounds that I voted against Prop. 17 today

    What grounds? You gave none other than “Why are they bothering me with this?” xrlq explained it in ONE PARAGRAPH. What was so hard?

    Comment by Kevin Murphy — 6/9/2010 @ 6:40 pm

  13. aphrael, I am going to have to disagree with your position that our current system is so bad that even if Prop. 14 turns out to have unintended consequences it can’t be any worse. We haven’t had a chance to see what effect redistricting might have (and good luck with getting on the commission — it could use citizens like you) so why not wait until after the 2014 or 2016 elections to decide if it makes sense to go to an open primary? Maybe the new districts can be drawn in a way to increase the clout of moderates.

    I am quite happy that Prop. 15 failed. I’ll never say never, but I have a hard time imagining a scenario under which I would support public financing of campaigns. Other than that I am like you, and I find I am rarely on the winning side in the propositions and initiatives.

    Comment by JVW — 6/9/2010 @ 6:41 pm

  14. Oh, about Prop 16: I believe that privatizing a public utility needs a 2/3rds vote now. I’m pretty sure that fact alone destroys your argument utterly.

    Comment by Kevin Murphy — 6/9/2010 @ 6:45 pm

  15. Kevin, with respect to Prop. 14, I don’t think it’s aimed at incumbents; I think it’s aimed at primaries for open seats, which happen regularly in the Assembly and the Senate and almost always involve multiple candidates. (See, for example, the recent primary in AD21).

    With respect to Prop. 16, it simply doesn’t follow that a requirement of a 2/3 majority vote to divest the public of something the public owns implies that we should require a 2/3 majority vote to create something which the public would own. That said, if you’re right about the rules for privatizing public utilities, I’d probably support changing them.

    This is a basic threshold matter for me: supermajority requirements should be reserved for incredibly important special cases.

    [And note that even if you’re right that a 2/3 majority vote to divest exists, and you’re right that it implies that we should have a 2/3 majority vote to create, it still doesn’t address my biggest problem with Prop. 16: why are we treating this particular kind of public utility differently than other ones? Why is provisioning power different from provisioning sewage service, water, trash, cable television, wireless internet, or other similar things?]

    JVW, I think you’ve slightly overstated my position. I wouldn’t say that “Prop 14 can’t be any worse”; I’d say that “Prop 14. is likely to be better and if it isn’t, we can repeal it.”

    Comment by aphrael — 6/10/2010 @ 12:23 pm

  16. Prop 17 seems like a trick to slam outrageous late fees onto people. These late fees would be increased premiums which track customers across insurance providers. Who knows?

    The law is confusing, and the near dead California journalism industry doesn’t explain it. Why would Mercury care so much about this, anyway?

    Comment by Wesson — 6/10/2010 @ 3:21 pm

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